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May 28, 2010

UBallet plays with tradition in spring show

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It’s not summer yet (much less midsummer), but the heat was turned up at the International House this past weekend as UBallet dancers pirouetted and twirled their way in and out of love in their graceful interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Don Quixote.

On the surface, the setting, style, and production of the two ballets seem to be drastically different.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was an original, student choreographed take on Shakespeare’s timeless tale, whereas Don Quixote was an adaptation of an already existent and popular traditional ballet.

There was also a clear difference in style and plot line.

First-year dancer Matt Walsh, who was cast as Demetrius in Midsummer and a toreador in Don, explains: “Midsummer was fanciful and capricious; the humor was subtle, and the plot was relatively complicated. Don Quixote was rawer: the humor was slapstick, the plot was straightforward, and the relationships between characters remained relatively static.”

However, such differences only strengthened the production, giving two different and interesting perspectives on the themes of love, comic madness, and female strength in both stories.

In the first half of the show, the stage was awash in spirits and magic; fairies flitted to and fro, a king and queen squabbled, one sprite made some madness, and four lovers fell desperately in love.

The action flowed from one scene to the next, as dancers moved seamlessly in motion with one another to recreate the atmosphere of the Bard’s enchanted forest setting.

Second-year and Maroon contributor Jessen O’Brien, who played Helena in the production, relates, “What made UB’s production of Midsummer so delightful was the attitude with which we approached the story. Ballet often carries connotations of being staid and stiff, but our production sought to embrace both the drama and the silliness. We wanted people to laugh.”

Her character exemplifies this light-heartedness with the self-described “high school drama” scenes that she gets caught up in with the three other lovers, Demetrius, Lysander, and Hermia.

Through this humor, audiences were better able to understand the oftentimes complicated and multifaceted storyline of ballet. Choreographer and second-year Steffi Carter echoed this sentiment: “The choreography emphasized facial expression and gestures, as well as reckless passion, frustration, rejection, and dejection— things that everyone can recognize and relate to.

And when the people onstage and the people in the audience share similar, familiar movements and motives, it’s easy to see the story.” O’Brien agrees, noting that “after all, a catfight is a catfight whether you’re in heels or pointe shoes.”

Such romantic entanglements were continued in the comedic Don Quixote, which also features star-crossed lovers reunited at the story’s end.

With its many flamenco-inspired moves, this half of the show was dynamic and full of action. Conceptually, there was also a greater focus on conveying individual personalities through dance rather than relationships between characters.

The main romance in Don Quixote is between Kitri and Basil, who are kept apart by Kitri’s father, desperate to marry her off to a wealthy suitor. Kitri, played exquisitely by fourth-year and UBallet Executive Director Angelina Liang, was the clear protagonist of the play.

Complementing her was another strong female character, Mercedes, played by Artistic Director Vivi Di Marco. Both describe their characters as strong women, who are, as Di Marco describes, “daring, maybe even a little recklessÂ…butÂ…also practical, calculating, even ambitious.”

This half of the ballet was an interesting display of gender dynamics: there was a greater male presence on stage with the titular knight and company, as toreador

Brian Nguyen comments, “I had license to be the most hip-thrusting, chest-thumping, beer-chugging guy I could be.” Yet it was the indomitable Kitri and the elegant Mercedes that really carried the heart and soul of the show.

Despite featuring two stories, the show resulted in the participation of the UBallet community as a whole. Choreographers and dancers alike all benefited from the collaborative nature of both productions.

Megan Furman, who plays Titania in Midsummer and Dulcinea in Quixote, says that one of her favorite things about working on UBallet is “the variety of people involved, everyone from undergrads to post-docs, each bringing something different to the table. I think our success [...] really speaks to that versatility.

Carter agrees with resounding praise, saying, “My heroes, these dancers are. My heroes.”

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